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This opinion piece was written for Earthjustice and is reprinted here with permission.

It's always been amazing to me just how much money polluters are willing to spend to try to convince lawmakers and the American public that public health and safety regulations will cost them too much money.

Seat belts and airbags, now standard features in all cars and trucks, were fought tooth and nail by the auto industry, which claimed they would be too costly and unpopular. It took the federal government 20 years to stand up to industry pressure and finally require life-saving airbags. 

Anyone remember when EPA was first going to require installation of catalytic converters to reduce harmful tailpipe emissions? GM cried catastrophe and Ford claimed it would be forced out of business altogether.

Thankfully, EPA did not bow to industry pressure and catalytic converters were required starting in 1975. Ford and GM both survived and, in fact, now proudly claim credit for the dramatic reduction in vehicle emissions that followed.

Unfortunately, late last week the California Air Resources Board did succumb to intense industry pressure and voted to significantly weaken its regulations requiring reductions in California's deadly diesel pollution levels.

California has some of the worst-polluted air in the nation, and the many big rigs and pieces of heavy construction equipment that operate here are the main culprits. Diesel pollution kills thousands of Californians every year, especially those who live, work, and go to school near freeways or industrial ports. But fear and money rule in these tough economic times, and as usual, industry came in strong claiming that the tough new standards would cost them too much.

It's too bad for those good actors who already installed emission control devices on their equipment and are now at a competitive disadvantage to those who opted to spend their money lobbying the state to undo the rules. Too bad, too, for the manufacturers of diesel particulate filters, which would have been required by the new rules, and who have invested millions of dollars and planned to hire thousands of California workers to expand the green economy.

But most of all, it's too bad for the millions of Californians who will continue to be exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution for many more years.